The End of Summer

dandelion

the smell of curly hair frosted by the sprinkler

upturned faces, iridescent wonder

a child can hold a rainbow and make it rain

their toes find muddy yard delicious while i sigh

watermelon snow cone beards and ice cream mustaches

strawberries, swimming and swords

flowers made for plucking

sandy footprints by the door

these best rival-friends brothers

sons of ancestors so far away

did africa and china ever meet in history?

but now they share their golden tans

these strong wild boys

who do not shrink from sun like i

two monkeys shaking the photina branches

teasing each other higher

chasing and screaming down the hall

while baby sister naps

“the dragon’s coming!”

we hide in closet caves and munch provisions

i cut watermelon and break up fights

apply band aids

exhausted and sometimes cross

but always i am wanted

the one who make them safe

who makes it fun to run from dragons

i remember when we brought our eldest home

fifteen pounds and bald, i marveled

that such a small person could fulfill a lifetime’s dream

and redeem a graveyard of losses

but he did, this little person

bringing summer back

and filling each day with spinning exuberant joy

five years later he is changing

writing his letters and making his own friends

we held his fingers when he first learned to stand

and now he spins cartwheels

we clapped when he stacked his first blocks

and now he builds castles

coaxed him through asthma, eczema

the fears that spawn a thousand sleep starved nights

kindergarten means

that for the first time since he became ours

he will spend as much waking time with them as us

it is a cosmic not just sentimental shift

our planet has grown strong

will start to orbit other stars

and suddenly the half decade’s toil is forgotten

and i only wonder

is he ready? did i love him enough?

school starts in a week

and i’m the one who doesn’t want summer to end

yet it will

and the bleeding shows it’s real, and the heart beats on

bedtime while the sun teases through the blinds

“no mommy, it’s morning time”

my second son at three is still my planetoid

the affectionate one

large brown eyes, thick lashes i can’t take credit for

i only take grace

and settle my little bird in his nest

“mommy, is the dragon coming?”

“no baby, the dragon is far away. you’re safe”

eyes close and exhausted boys sleep

while i chase the dragons of a summer night

Infertility and the Church Today

blackall.infertility

“And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb” (Gen. 30:22)

Like many issues in the church today, the struggle of infertility is both inwardly devastating and invisible from the outside. As an infertile woman, I watched my whole life take a sharp turn, from hard work, success, and hope, to failure, depression and despair. Without warning or foreboding, I found myself in the darkest valley of my life, and I felt completely alone.

The non-denominational churches I attended were happy places; growing families, children running amok, smiling people living busy productive lives. I had been among them, until I found myself unable to transition to the next stage; unable to bear a child. This pain was intensified by multiple miscarriages, during the same time that the women in my small group were successfully conceiving and giving birth. I have many memories of being unable to hold back the tears during worship, as I looked out at the sea of babies and pregnant mothers, and escaped to the bathroom to cry.

Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy, and he is especially successful at planting lies when our hearts are made vulnerable by suffering. Our church friends did not know how to respond to our situation. Some suggested we needed to surrender more, others to stress less. I was asked to plan and attend baby showers by women who knew our story but apparently didn’t understand it. Mother’s day was celebrated without (in most cases) an acknowledgement of those who still long to be a mother, and I stopped going to church on that day. I went to work for a Christian company with a strong subculture of family. They joked about their fertility and large families. Their Bible studies highlighted verses on children being a reward of the Lord, without any nuanced comment on when that blessing doesn’t come. There were a few Christian friends who simply cared and try to share my feelings even if they couldn’t really understand. But mostly I found myself walking this valley alone, except for my husband, who of course felt it in a different way. “Why is God allowing this?” “Am I more sinful, less spiritual?” I felt shame, abandonment, despair. At one point I asked God to end my life because the pain was so unbearable. I felt that God didn’t hear my heartfelt prayer, and core doubts about His love and goodness were planted in my heart.

In time I got counseling, found others who shared my story, and adopted my beautiful children. I found healing, and in the loneliness of my life’s darkest valley I experienced God’s presence and intervention powerfully. I was broken apart and remade, and all of this fell within His purpose. I know now that when no one else could understand, He did, and these experiences have shaped me to fulfill God’s destiny for my life. But where was the church in my story? Infertility and miscarriage are common: the National Survey of Family Growth states that the prevalence of infertility is 7-30%, depending on age. The incidence of miscarriage in pregnancies up to 20 weeks is 8-20% I have met and ministered to many Christian women with infertility and pregnancy loss and no one has listed their church as a strong spiritual or emotional resource. In most cases their strongest supportive relationship has come to them randomly, and not through a church connection at all. In addition, infertility causes serious mental health issues; women with infertility have a much higher incidence of depression and anxiety The Scriptures spend a disproportionate amount of time on this women’s issue, perhaps because barrenness is so fundamentally destructive to a woman’s creative calling and sense of purpose. It causes deep spiritual struggle which may not resolve in a healthy way, causing a woman to despair of God’s love and good purpose and turn away in bitterness.

Greater ministry to women with infertility and pregnancy loss is needed in the church today. I recognize the challenge of this endeavor. Because of the inept response of many people on this sensitive issue, women with infertility stop talking about it. We look the same as everyone else, so it is hard to know who is struggling. American culture highly values privacy, and people are rightly reluctant to ask intrusive questions, though some are not reluctant enough! Pastors and ministry leaders need specialized training on this issue, alerting them to the prevalence of infertility and pregnancy loss, and the right way to approach it. Women who have walked this journey and feel comfortable should be asked to lead regular church sponsored support groups. The opportunity to meet other women in one’s church who struggle and to hear their stories is immensely healing, and those relationships should not be left to chance. Special speakers and seminars should be offered. Infertile women should be remembered on Mother’s day, and women in leadership must use sensitivity when inviting ladies to organize a baby shower or children’s event. A childless woman may seem like a perfect candidate to recruit for children’s Sunday school, but that ministry may cause her a lot of pain.

In the midst of our busy, happy lives, let us remember the hurting ones, the ones who feel forgotten. In each Biblical story of a barren couple, God intervened with mercy and showed that He did hear them, that He had always heard. As the body of Christ we should do the same.

References

Infertility and impaired fecundity in the United States, 1982-2010: data from the National Survey of Family Growth.

Chandra A, Copen CE, Stephen EH

Natl Health Stat Report. 2013 Aug;

2 Incidence of early loss of pregnancy.
Wilcox AJ, Weinberg CR, O’Connor JF, Baird DD, Schlatterer JP, Canfield RE, Armstrong EG, Nisula BC
N Engl J Med. 1988;319(4):189.

3 Prevalence of depressive and anxiety disorders in an assisted reproductive technique clinic.
Chen TH, Chang SP, Tsai CF, Juang KD

Hum Reprod. 2004;19(10):2313

Crossroads II

crossroads
I title this post as a sequel to the first one published almost 2 years ago. Then our trip to China still loomed before us, full of uncertainty and expectation. I feel like we’ve done a 360 degree loop since then and want to catch the story up. I recorded in my China post how we returned from our trip more united than we’d ever been on a location in central China, impressed by the local workers there, and ready to commit a year of our lives to the ministry they were doing.

And then the small voice of longing, the persistent whisper that can be ignored but not silenced, began again in my heart. A daughter. I really wanted a daughter, and I didn’t want to go to China without one. I imagined the insensitive comments: “Couldn’t you have your own children?” The pity, and even the shame, exacerbated by a different cultural environment. I couldn’t fix my infertility, but I could face these things with a full heart, and a full family. I asked Bob if we could start another adoption first, and he agreed, though later regretted he didn’t ask me to choose one or the other. Last year was a year of chafing, waiting for a process we (shouldn’t have) expected to move quickly and instead filled with delays and false leads. Bob stuck in a job he didn’t like waiting for China. The timeline was stretching too long for him, and he made it clear at some point if we weren’t going to do this we were going to give it up and start a practice here in America. In The Wildness of God I told the story of Noel and how God spoke to me and brought her to us in March of this year. He brought her at the last possible moment, as I had told Bob if we didn’t hear anything by March 31st I would agree to move and settle somewhere in the U.S.

But here we are- hopeful to finalize her adoption this year, and China is still an option. I feel more surrendered about going overseas than ever before. I hold it with an open palm. Now almost 40, I have lost much of the romantic idealism, the thrill of adventure for adventure’s sake, that I had in my 20’s and early 30’s. I know this will be hard. Our children will face new risks and deprivations. Our marriage will face new tensions. It will cost a lot to move overseas; financially, emotionally, relationally. There are times I have asked myself if I still want to go. My daily vision is as myopic as ever- the fruitless daily quest for adequate sleep, my mind consumed with disaster prevention, conflict mediation, responsive parenting and the meeting of a thousand little needs every day. When we started the adoption I stopped studying Chinese as much. My tutor moved back to China. I had been skyping our contact there, but this also ceased when we got baby Noel. I feel disconnected- China feels a world away. I’m also guarding my emotions, because I recognize Bob’s right to say no to this. I honestly don’t want to go unless he does too, because I need for us both to be fully on board, fully committed. Our marriage is pretty egalitarian, but I feel compelled to let him take the lead this time. I need for him to, because then I will know his feelings are real. Sometimes I control too much with the strength of my enthusiasm.

During this time of limbo I’ve realized some important lessons. I don’t need to move overseas to realize my spiritual potential. Nothing has shaken or rebuilt me like my experience of infertility and pregnancy loss. I doubt that any cross cultural challenge can compare to that. I have so many opportunities here to help, minister, love, more than I have time or energy for. If we stayed in the U.S. God would use me, and those opportunities would continue. Openness, not location is what matters. I needed to really learn this, to let go of that deep seated belief that I would always be inadequate without a missionary experience.
Bob says he wants to move forward soon, and is contacting our agency here. He is doing seminary training which he hopes to use there. He is discussing timelines. He wants to commit to one year, with the option of staying much longer if the right opportunities open up.
I’m not getting excited yet. We will have to raise thousands of dollars in monthly support. Another test if this is what we’re meant to do. Guarded heart.
Yet hopeful. I just called the library and reserved those Mandarin cds again. We’ll see our contacts when they’re in the U.S. That long held dream of living and working for His kingdom in another culture hadn’t died, just gone dormant to survive life’s storms. Like waiting for the spring, we watch and see what will burst forth.

Nautilus

nautilus 1

Held tightly in our little dreams

Untested, warm and sure

Each year’s trial marks deeper groove

Shell breaks salt water rushes in

A larger place feels distant, cold

Old feelings slough away and aren’t replaced

Instead we find chaotic turbulence

Our choices and the dark unknown

Flounder, hesitate, forgetful

Of our birth and how it’s meant to be

The choice still bare as ever

Resent, despise, escape alone

Or striving find a new way to embrace

To make this inundated space secure

Enlarge our citadel coiled tight

Beauty’s freely given but keeping we must fight

Noel

rose 2
You didn’t ripen inside me
But I was there to watch them pull you from another womb
Reluctantly
Like snowfall in March
The last goodbye to winter
And like spring’s first blossom
You curled up against my chest
and joined your rhythmic cooing to my breath
Accepting the graft
I bleerily gaze down at my hungry floret
Jeweled eyes wide open at three a.m.
Blue and grey
A snowstorm meets a bright spring day
Pink infusion, curtains, lace
Birthmark V- vivacious, and our victory is stamped
Like the tiara that entwines your pretty head
Your rosy efflorescence makes me smile- at last!
To have a daughter
Imagination vines with future plans
Princess, peapod, baby sister
Brothers plant wet kisses on your downy head
Now your bloom unfolds with bright eyes and giddy smiles
In two months we’ve become as real as your native home
Noel born in spring
The ice still settles
A last tempest shakes the branch
Our roots tremble
We steady the graft
And pray it to hold strong

The Wildness of God

mountain2

“We are threatened by such a free God because it takes away all of our ability to control or engineer the process. It leaves us powerless, and changes the language from any language of performance or achievement to that of surrender, trust and vulnerability. That is the so called ‘wildness of God”  –Richard Rohr

I think this quote really captures something key about how I’ve journeyed through our third adoption. The feeling of powerlessness was really central to last year. I wanted the baby girl to come so much, and for the rest of our life to be able to move forward. I felt pressure from Bob when this didn’t happen. But I couldn’t do anything about it. I finally had that experience in December where I embraced and put my trust in God’s goodness. I felt Him take up this desire as His own. I felt Him caution me to fixate my trust on Him alone, and not what I could do to make this happen nor on a birth mom. This was really important as our first 2 birth mom contacts fell through.

With J, I felt God’s grace, Him orchestrating everything. I met her 3 weeks before our baby was born, the same as with Nick. She picked us off the internet, and her youngest son has the same name as Bob. We agreed that she should choose Noel’s middle name, and it happened to be one of my top three choices. When I accompanied her to her OB appointment she told me her doctor had urged her to be sure to choose a good family. That doctor turned out to be one of Bob’s intern colleagues from his first residency. When I started the adoption I had made a few requests, not really expecting them to be granted. I wanted to see this baby on ultrasound, and to be there when she was born, something I didn’t get to experience with The Jade and Nick. J’s doctor did an ultrasound that day, even though it wasn’t really indicated. He also waived the one family member rule for her c-section so that I could be present for her birth. As we waited for March 2nd, peace and anxiety intertwined in tangled threads. She could change her mind. The birth dad was distant but unsupportive of adoption; would he cause trouble at the last moment? Would the delivery go ok? Yet I had that feeling that it will go forward because it is meant to be. I can’t mess this up. I was there when Noel’s beautiful scrunched up face emerged, when they pulled her screaming from the belly. As they carried her from the OR I felt a voice in my heart: “I did this for you”. I felt touched, known, deeply understood, like something I had lost a long time ago was given back to me. Unremitted favor is more beautiful than traditional religion. When our righteousness is rewarded we are smug and satisfied. But when God works on His own time in His own way we are undone and dissolve into thankfulness. God’s wildness hurts us sometimes, and makes us angry. We may withdraw from Him awhile. But we never know where the next bend in our road is. Every child God has brought into our family has healed me a little more. We are recipients of mercy and even blessing. Blessing in one place because of the pain and loss in another. Three children in 4 1/2 years! God’s path goes against our grain; it bevels and even breaks us. But when we accept it and allow ourselves to be carried along, it takes us into another world.

IMG_145603.03.Crawford7485 - 20

50 signs that you have 3 children five and under

1. The ever present layer of petrified applesauce on the walls.

2. Your toilet paper is either stacked in messy coils or has a soggy bite taken out of it.

3. Something breaks every day.

4. Your formerly tenacious Bermuda grass has given up, and your backyard is now hard-packed dirt.

5. You have a 7 passenger vehicle that only seats 2 adults comfortably.

6. You buy 5 different types of disposable diapers.

7. Your garage is cluttered with 4 strollers, none of which fit everyone.

8. Naptime requires a vehicle, an iPhone, and a carefully timed bottle of milk.

9. Your Netflix movies are gathering dust.

10. Your bedtime ritual is so complicated you have to start right after dinner to have any hope.

11. You know who is most likely to awaken you at any hour of the night

12. You do a ton of laundry, but somehow it all fits nicely into a dresser and small closet.

13. Your house is wallpapered with preschool crafts.

14. Half finished pinterest projects

15. The words “I’m done” keep coming up in conversations with your husband.

16. You couldn’t give up caffeine for Lent

17. Your phone’s memory is full, but you can’t bring yourself to delete a picture.

18.Looking nice means adding earrings and mascara.

19. You think the American standard of personal hygiene is a luxury.

20. You have to ask if the cleaning lady came.

21. Your greatest fear when leaving on a trip is forgetting the blankies.

22. You don’t want to go on any more trips.

23. You have a timeout chair in every room.

24. You need a timeout chair more than they do.

25. If you can’t find your kids they’re probably hiding in the dryer.

26. Your once tidy coffee table is now buried under library books.

27. You would pay $100 for a nap.

28. You thank God every day you have a backyard.

29. You’re pretty sure your 2 year old could break the sound barrier with his scream.

30. You plan to visit your relatives for your anniversary so they can babysit while you escape for a few hours.

31. Your garage is full of half filled boxes of clothes in different sizes.

32. Friends don’t do coffee anymore, they do play dates.

33. You don’t have time for email or talking on the phone, but send runaway texts. Conversations with out of town friends must be carefully scheduled around naptime.

34. Your house smells like diapers.

35. You have glitter permanently affixed to your table. And you kind of like it.

36. If you agree to a pet, it will be a horseshoe crab or a fish.

37. You’re profoundly struck at random moments with the thought that these beautiful people are actually yours.

38. You can’t remember when you last changed the sheets. (Except in the case of the bedwetter)

39. You look forward to church for the hour of supervised childcare.

40. You realize you’re leaching off the system, and guiltily sign up for said childcare.

41. You can articulately debate both sides of the “Mommy Wars” issues.

42. You ignore your exhaustion and stay up, intoxicated by the sound of a quiet house and your own thoughts at last.

43. Your phone has half a dozen kids apps but no grown-up games.

44. You can’t find a pair of pants for your sons without holes in the knees.

45. You can justify the health benefits of biweekly baths.

46. No one ever stops you in a restaurant to tell you how welll-behaved your children are.

47. You have actually carried all of them at the same time before.

48. You have researched stock in applesauce.

49. You don’t have the energy to post about anything better than this.

50. You’re amazed at how happy you can be on so little sleep.